24 years later, you could still see the stab wounds’

By John Seewer The Associated Press

TOLEDO – A letter opener found in a priest’s room was a “perfect fit” when inserted into a jaw wound suffered by a nun who had been fatally stabbed and choked in a hospital chapel in 1980, an assistant coroner testified yesterday at the priest’s murder trial.

“We took the letter opener and inserted it. It was a perfect fit,” Diane Scala-Barnett, an assistant Lucas County Coroner, testified about a second autopsy done after the body of Sister Margaret Ann Pahl was exhumed in May 2004.

“Twenty-four years later, you could still see the stab wounds,” she said as the defendant, Rev. Gerald Robinson, 68, sat impassively.

The first autopsy done on the day of the 71-year-old Roman Catholic nun’s death, April 5, 1980, showed she died of 31 stab wounds to the face, neck and chest – including nine wounds that authorities have said were in the shape of an upside-down cross, Scala-Barnett said. There also was evidence that she had been strangled.

Prosecutors showed jurors an enlarged photo of the letter opener inserted into the puncture wound in the jaw. “The fit was so snug,” said Julie Saul, director of the forensic anthropology lab in the coroner’s office. “It just seemed to lock into place.”

Robinson, who presided at Sister Pahl’s funeral, was a suspect early on because he was near the chapel at the time of the killing. But he was not arrested until two years ago.

It wasn’t until after his arrest and the exhumation of the nun’s body that investigators discovered the puncture wound in the jaw that they say matched the letter opener.

“It’s a pretty unusual blade,” police Detective Terry Cousino said of the sword-like letter opener found in a desk drawer in Robinson’s room near the chapel.

Cousino said he went to great lengths to see if he could find a similar letter opener, even looking at Internet auction sites.

“I never found one like this,” he said.

The letter opener also was consistent with punctures in the altar cloth placed over the nun’s body, he testified.

Mirror-image blood stains on an altar linen indicated the cloth had been folded in half over the body of Sister Pahl, Cousino testified. He spread out the linen on the floor in Lucas County Common Pleas Court and used projected images to underscore his testimony.

The pattern of punctures indicated the killer may have used a template or guide, according to Cousino, who displayed a graphic showing a cross-shaped template fitting neatly between the linen punctures.

She was laid on the floor with the cloth placed over her and then stabbed, they said. The cloth was removed before her body and was found on a pew in the chapel.

The initial search of Robinson’s room at Mercy Hospital turned up the letter owner.

Josh Franks, a retired criminalist, testified that he removed a medallion from the letter opener and found a small speck that he tested.